Dublin striving to break fade-out malaise
ONE of the more welcome characteristics of Pat Gilroy's management style has been his honesty.
Thus: "We were like startled earwigs for the first 15 minutes" after the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final massacre by Kerry; "That's what happens when you don't give your full-backs proper cover" after Dublin were hit for five goals by Meath last June; "We conceded a penalty and a number of soft frees and we have to look at why that happened" after last year's semi-final defeat by Cork; "We'll get stick for this, but we'll deal with it because it's our job" following the league final defeat by Cork in April.
This week, Gilroy looked in his own direction when allocating respons-ibility for the last quarter fade-out against Cork in the league final, pointing out that "management made decisions on the day which didn't help the team."
He referred to bringing in inexperienced subs at a time when Dublin were in control, a gamble which won't be necessary from now on as several seasoned campaigners are ready for duty after returning from injury.
Dublin analysed the last 20 minutes of the league final in concentrated detail, trying to identify the precise nature of the latest virus to corrupt their programme just when it appeared to have settled into a winning formula. It's a search that Gilroy also had to undertake after the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Cork last August.
But then, the practice of Dublin managers sifting through the wreckage of second-half fade-outs, poor starts or other nasty surprises is nothing new. Indeed, it has been going on consistently since Dublin's last All-Ireland win in 1995.
Mickey Whelan (1996-97), Tommy Carr (1998-2001), Tommy Lyons (2002-2004) and Paul Caffrey (2005-2008) all experienced days when Dublin took careful aim at their own feet and pulled the trigger.
Indeed, that has been the most frustrating aspect for Team Dublin for a long time.
The best any team can hope for at the end of a season is to be in a position to say that they avoided the self-destruct button and performed as close as possible to maximum capabilities.
Unfortunately for Dublin, that has not been the case very often. Instead, most seasons have ended with the empty feeling that a bountiful crop was lost by leaving the gate open and allowing others in with their combine harvesters.
Indeed, with the possible exceptions of 1998, '99 and 2007, there has been no season since Dublin last won the All-Ireland when they weren't left with that horrible sensation, arising from having underperformed at a crucial stage of a particular game.
Quite why that is the case remains a mystery. What's more, it has happened under every manager since the departure of Kevin Heffernan in January 1986, although Pat O'Neill did succeed in steering Dublin to an All-Ireland success in 1995.
A year earlier, a slow start (six points down after 20 minutes) against Down cost Dublin dearly in the All-Ireland final; in 1993 a poor second-half (Derry wiped out a five-point deficit) undermined them in the All-Ireland semi-final, while Charlie Redmond missed a penalty early in the 1992 All-Ireland final against Donegal.
And in this, the 20th anniversary weekend of the start of the famous four-match saga with Meath, it's worth recalling that Dublin (with Paddy Cullen as manager) led by five points 15 minutes into the second half of the fourth game only to be reeled in and beaten by a point.
There was a malaise there in Gerry McCaul's time too, painfully characterised in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final when Dublin blew a seven-point lead against Cork and in 1988 when Charlie Redmond's last-minute penalty kick flew over the bar with a goal required for a draw in the Leinster final.
The challenge now facing Gilroy and his squad is to change a trend which has derailed Dublin for a very long time by ending a championship season satisfied that they presented a true reflection of their worth on a consistent basis. Whether or not that will be enough to win an All-Ireland is open to debate, but it would, at the very least, maximise their chances.
More than any county, Dublin have been left with a horrible feeling that they were quite often responsible for their failures, as opposed to being beaten by better teams.
The following is a year-by-year breakdown of Dublin's championship exits since last winning the All-Ireland title in 1995, complete with a culpability rating as to how much they contributed to their defeats.
1996 leinster final
Meath 0-10 Dublin 0-8
A year earlier, Dublin had beaten Meath by 10 points and went on to win the All-Ireland title. Odds-on favourites in the 1996 Leinster final, Dublin led by two points after 58 minutes, but were caught on the run-in as a new-look Meath team scored four times without reply.
Culpability Rating: 8 (out of 10)
1997 leinster quarter-final
Meath 1-13 Dublin 1-10
A dreadful first-half slump and the failure to convert a late penalty wrecked Dublin. They trailed by 1-9 to 0-4 at one stage late in the first half, but battled back impressively and had a chance to equalise in the final minute, but Paul Bealin's penalty kick thudded back off the crossbar.
Culpability Rating: 7
1998 leinster quarter-final
Dublin 0-10 Kildare 0-10; Kildare 0-12 Dublin 1-8 (Replay)
One of the few years since Dublin won the 1995 All-Ireland title that they could have no real regrets as they never really functioned in either game. Kildare should have beaten them comfortably in the drawn game and were on top in the replay too. They led by four points in stoppage time before Declan Darcy landed a late Dublin goal.
Culpability Rating: 4
1999 leinster final
Meath 1-14 Dublin 0-12
As in 1998, they were beaten by a better team. It was the day that Ollie Murphy gave a brilliant exhibition of finishing, scoring 1-5 from open play. Dublin were only a point adrift early in the final quarter, but Murphy's goal gave Meath a winning impetus.
Culpability Rating: 3
2000 leinster final
Kildare 0-14 Dublin 0-14; Kildare 2-11 Dublin 0-12 (Replay)
Dublin scored the last point to draw level in the first game and appeared to have built on that psychological edge when they led the replay by six points at half-time. They should have been further ahead, but the margin still looked secure enough. However, they collapsed in the second half, conceding two goals in the first two minutes. Dublin managed just one point in the second half.
Culpability Rating: 9
Meath 2-11 Dublin 0-14
Kerry 1-14 Dublin 2-11;
Kerry 2-12 Dublin 1-12 (Replay)
Dublin gifted Graham Geraghty a first-minute goal in the Leinster final when goalkeeper Davy Byrne failed to control a lob. Dublin lost by three points -- hence the significance of that error. Dublin staged a great comeback in the drawn quarter-final, wiping out an eight-point lead to lead by one before Maurice Fitzgerald's wonder kick from the sideline brought it level. Even then, Dublin had a late chance from a '45,' but failed to take it. Kerry's good start in the replay proved the difference between the teams.
Culpability Rating: 7 (Leinster final); 7 (All-Ireland quarter-final); 5 (Replay).
2002 all-ireland semi-final
Armagh 1-14 Dublin 1-13
Back as Leinster champions for the first time since 1995, Dublin were involved in an outstanding All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh. Trailing by a point late on, they had a great opportunity to draw level, but Ray Cosgrove's free hit the post. Even then, Armagh reacted quicker to the rebound.
Culpability Rating: 8
Laois 0-16 Dublin 0-14
Armagh 0-15 Dublin 0-11
Dublin could have no real regrets about the Leinster semi-final defeat as re-energised Laois were that bit sharper. However, they blew the qualifier tie when, after going four points up against Armagh, goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton was dismissed. How often do goalkeepers get sent off? It was a costly red card.
Culpability Rating: 5 (Leinster semi-final); 8 (Qualifiers)
Westmeath 0-14 Dublin 0-12
Kerry 1-15 Dublin 1-8
Kerry were a far superior force in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but Dublin were disgusted with themselves earlier on when they turned in a dismal performance against Westmeath, losing to the Midlanders for the first time since 1967. Westmeath were improving -- they went on to win a first Leinster title, but Dublin were extremely poor against them.
Culpability Rating: 8 (Leinster quarter-final); 4 (All-Ireland quarter-final)
2005 all-ireland q/f
Tyrone 1-14 Dublin 1-14
Tyrone 2-18 Dublin 1-14 (Replay)
Dublin led by five points at half-time in the drawn game, but were pegged back in the second half. Tyrone led by seven points at half-time in the replay and while Dublin cut the deficit to three points after 48 minutes, Tyrone kicked on and won comfortably. The difference? Tyrone made use of their big lead -- Dublin didn't.
Culpability Rating: 8 (Draw); 5 (Replay)
2006 all-ireland semi-final
Mayo 1-16 Dublin 2-12
The biggest Dublin giveaway of all. They led by 2-11 to 0-10 after 46 minutes against a Mayo team not noted for spirited revivals, but, with Ciaran McDonald taking charge, Dublin were torn apart. Mayo out-scored them by 1-6 to 0-1 in the final 24 minutes. Even then, Dublin had a late chance to draw level, but, as in 2002, they missed a scoreable free.
Culpability Rating: 10
2007 all-ireland semi-final
Kerry 1-15 Dublin 0-16
Kerry led by 1-12 to 0-9 after 54 minutes, but Dublin kicked five unanswered points in 10 minutes and appeared to have built up a winning momentum. However, they failed to see it through, losing the last five minutes 0-3 to 0-2. The likes of Kerry, Tyrone and Cork tend to complete comebacks, but Dublin have struggled in this area.
Culpability Rating: 5
2008 all-ireland q/f
Tyrone 3-14 Dublin 1-8
Favourites to win after racking up a fourth successive Leinster title, they were blitzed all over the field. Tyrone turned in a fine performance, but were made look better by disjointed Dublin. The manner in which Sean Cavanagh was allowed to solo all the way in from the sideline before scoring a goal was a stark reflection of Dublin's dismal day.
Culpability Rating: 7
2009 all-ireland q/f
Kerry 1-24 Dublin 1-7
Once again Dublin were favourites; once again they collapsed to their biggest embarrassment for many years. Kerry blitzed them from the start and had the game wrapped up after 20 minutes. Kerry were good, but Dublin's response was pathetically weak. They probably wouldn't have won with a much better performance, but their capitulation reflected badly on their sense of resolve.
Culpability Rating: 8
Meath 5-9 Dublin 0-13
Cork 1-15 Dublin 1-14
The Leinster semi-final result was somewhat freakish as Dublin conceded four second-half goals. Of more concern was the manner in which they allowed a five-point lead 50 minutes into the semi-final be whittled away. They lost the last 10 minutes, 0-6 to 0-2 as fade-out syndrome struck again.
Culpability Rating: 9 (Leinster semi-final); 9 (All-Ireland semi-final)
2011 nfl final
Cork 0-21 Dublin 2-14
Dublin led by 2-14 to 0-15 after 56 minutes, but failed to score again while patient, methodical Cork, splendidly led by Paddy Kelly, scored six points. Coming on their last pre-championship test, it was a worrying development for Dublin, who had surrendered a seven-point lead against Galway two weeks earlier.
Culpability Rating: 9